Violence erupts in Haiti as losing candidates reject presidential vote results

Violent protests erupted in Haiti on Tuesday as losing candidates rejected the preliminary results of an election that indicated Jovenel Moï​se would be the next president.

Jovenel Moï​se set to be president; previous election results tossed out over fraud allegations

Jovenel Moï​se, a political newcomer backed by Haiti's former president, Michel Martelly, won the presidential election redo, according to preliminary results that were quickly questioned Tuesday by several losing factions. (Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press)

Violent protests erupted in Haiti on Tuesday as losing candidates rejected the preliminary results of an election that indicated banana exporter Jovenel Moï​se would be the next president.

Moï​se, who was hand-picked by former president Michel Martelly to succeed him in the Haitian Tet Kale Party, won 55.67 per cent of votes cast in the Nov. 20 election, according to the director of the Provisional Electoral Council, Uder Antoine.

That would be enough to secure the presidency and avoid a run-off vote, as his closest competitor, Jude Célestin, only got 19.52 per cent.

But Célestin and two other losing candidates, Maryse Narcisse and senator Moï​se Jean Charles, contested the results Tuesday, alleging widespread fraud.

Supporters of presidential candidate Maryse Narcisse block a street with stones after clashes with national police as they protest election results in Port-au-Prince on Tuesday. (Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press)

The results come after a week of protests and unrest led by supporters of Narcisse and the Fanmi Lavalas Party, which called the results an "electoral coup."

In the party stronghold of Cité Soleil, police used tear gas on protesters who took to the streets Tuesday and vowed to stay mobilized until the final results were in.

"We won't give up … the time of peaceful marches is over," said Patrick Sylvain, waving a faded poster of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. "We need to act and fight until the end." 

'Time to move on'

But others seemed relieved that the elections were over.

It's time to move on. I am tired of violence and protest.- Rodney Williams, Pétionville  resident

"It's time to move on. I am tired of violence and protest," said Rodney Williams, who was recently laid off from his job at a new hotel in the upscale suburb of Pétionville in Port-au-Prince.

"What we need are jobs and investments. Who will build factories or hotels if we constantly burn tires in the streets? Tourists go to Cuba or the Dominican Republic instead," he said.

A campaign poster of Jovenel Moï​se burns after it was set on fire by supporters of rival candidate Maryse Narcisse during a protest in the capital Monday. (Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press)

In other parts of town, the results were welcomed by young professionals, who seem more confident in the future

"Jovenel Moï​se is the [logical] choice within all candidates. He is the only one with a vision and a program," said Louise D., a first-time voter who didn't want to reveal her last name and still had on her thumb the ink used to safeguard against multiple voting.

"I wanted my vote to count. We all should put our differences aside now and help him succeed. His success will be ours. This is the only way Haiti can prosper."

Previous election result overturned

The election was a repeat of a vote originally held in October 2015 that was overturned after allegations of fraud.

It was scheduled for Oct. 9 but was postponed again after Hurricane Matthew tore through the Caribbean nation, killing up to 1,000 people and leaving 1.4 million in need of humanitarian assistance.

Turnout was low, as it has been for other elections in Haiti in recent years. Just over a million voters went to the polls in a country of about 10 million, and Moï​se was elected by fewer than 600,000 votes.

A list showing the preliminary results of the Nov. 20 vote. (Conseil Electoral Provisoire)

The electoral council said 12 per cent of tally sheets were tossed out because of irregularities, and three people on the nine-member electoral council did not sign the report declaring Jovenel Moï​se the winner, although the council's president did not say who had abstained.

Those elements fuelled a universal condemnation of the results from the losing candidates, who have 72 hours to contest. The final results are expected to be released on Dec. 29.

'Why vote? Will a new president improve my life, send my children to school or help me sell my goods?' - Fabienne Damis, street merchant in Port-au-Prince

"We reject the results because there are invalid votes that have been counted," said Michel André​, a lawyer for Célestin. "Jude Célestin will challenge the results."

Jean Charles also said on Tuesday that he would fight the results.

"The outcome of the election is the result of a conspiracy by the economic oligarchy and sectors of the international community," he said.  

Narcisse supporters march in Port-au-Prince Sunday. (Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press)

"Why vote?" asked Fabienne Damis, a street merchant in Port-au-Prince's busy downtown Salomon Market.

"Will a new president improve my life, send my children to school or help me sell my goods? All I ask is a bit of peace and stability to sell my products … and to go home with enough money to feed my family."

Rumours of disagreement within the electoral council fuelled tensions around the capital, and a news conference to announce the results was delayed for more than six hours. Interim president Jocelerme Privert, who was appointed by Haiti's parliament in February, appealed for calm ahead of the announcement.

Haiti has been plagued by political instability and poverty for decades and faces decimated infrastructure and another surge of the cholera epidemic that has already claimed more than 10,000 lives.

The next president will be hard-pressed to unite the pieces of Haiti's political puzzle, reassure the country's civil society and gain the trust of the business community if Haiti is to achieve its goal of becoming a so-called emerging country in 2030.

With files from Reuters